Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Reopening Bookstores

I've been thinking a lot about this, especially for this summer when I'm not teaching, where I'm mostly cruising around to bookstores and libraries, before stopping into the sports bar to read with a couple of I.P.A.s.

At NYT, "For Bookstore Owners, Reopening Holds Promise and Peril":

Last fall, Kyle Hall’s bookstore was destroyed by a tornado. This spring, it was almost wiped out by a pandemic.

For the past two months, ever since Texas ordered nonessential businesses to shut down, Mr. Hall, the manager and co-owner of Interabang Books in Dallas, has taken one unprecedented step after another to keep the store open. In March, Interabang transformed from a brick-and-mortar shop into an online retail business. When the stay-at-home order was lifted at the end of April, it became a curbside takeout operation. Staff members redesigned the storefront display, cramming 100 titles in the window so that customers could browse at a safe distance.

“We called it the bookstore bakery case,” Mr. Hall said. “That was strange, but in a week we got used to it.”

Then the state’s orders changed again, and retailers were told they could open at 25 percent their usual capacity. Interabang’s staff reorganized the layout of the 2,000-square-foot space and put markers on the floor to signal how far apart customers should stand. This past weekend, around 150 customers came to shop, most wearing masks.

“We felt like, if the governor is going to allow businesses like ours to reopen, and doing business was permissible, then we wanted to do it,” Mr. Hall said.

Even as health experts working with the Trump administration warned a Senate panel on Tuesday against reopening the country too quickly, the U.S. retail sector is beginning to get back to business. As some states allow a handful of businesses to reopen and other regions charge ahead full throttle, it is an experiment for bookstore owners and other retailers attempting to strike a balance between staying afloat and keeping workers and customers safe.

“The staff resoundingly said, ‘We are not ready,’” she said.

Among retail businesses, bookstores, especially smaller independent stores, face particular challenges as they navigate reopening. Many indies occupy cramped spaces with warrens of bookshelves, and serve as community centers and cultural outposts as much as retail operations. Book lovers often come in to linger, browse and chat with the staff about what to read next, all behaviors that in a pandemic are potentially life-threatening.

Some booksellers are now in the awkward position of having to disappoint eager customers. Malaprop’s in Asheville, N.C., told subscribers to its newsletter that even though the state had cleared bookstores to open, it would remain closed until at least May 19. When it reopens, shoppers will be allowed to visit by appointment only, to limit the number of people in the store, and face coverings will be mandatory.
Still more.

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